But I deserve it! Six Ways to Prevent Entitlement in the Workplace

Entitlement – it rears its ugly head from time to time at work.

The term “entitlement” refers to the belief that we deserve some particular reward or benefit. Not because we met or exceeded a goal, not because we have expended exceptional effort, but because we believe someone “owes” us something simply because we exist.

I googled the word “entitlement” this morning to see what others were saying about it.

I found a lot of blame.

  • Let’s blame it on the coaches!
  • Let’s blame it on the parents!
  • Let’s blame it on the government!
  • Let’s blame it on the school system!

The blame game…I suppose I could play too but it makes me feel like a victim.

I find it more empowering to look in the mirror. What have I done to create, or nurture, an employee’s feeling of entitlement?

If I’m honest with myself, I will likely find I have applauded low expectations before. For instance, I may have given a decent/good performance evaluation when, in reality, the performance was mediocre. I may have redone my employee’s work rather than forthrightly telling him/her the work was done incorrectly or not well enough. I may have “job sculpted” for someone, removing or re-assigning duties to others rather than conceding the employee was not cut out for the job.

If I’m honest with myself, I will probably realize I have encouraged reward regardless of merit a few too many times. For instance, I may have approved Paid Time Off or given another benefit to reward someone for simply meeting the performance standard. I may have enticed someone with a promise of a benefit simply to get him/her to perform basic work.

If I’m honest with myself, I must concede I have sometimes failed to be consistent and communicative about rewards with my employees. Perhaps I have given rewards to some but not others even though they all produced similar results. Maybe I didn’t communicate or define why I gave benefits or rewards in the first place.

I am trying very hard lately to be honest with myself, and I’ll start with practicing what I preach. Below are six things I tell my clients they should do to prevent an entitled workforce.

  • Empathize, don’t sympathize.
    Sympathy validates the person or tells him/her you agree or share the belief. On the other hand, empathy shows you are listening, trying to understand and that you care they are upset.
  • Ask questions.
    Being inquisitive (without being snarky or condescending) can help the employee realize the reality, reasonableness and necessity of the situation.
  • Avoid continued bribing and/or offers of benefits.
    Compromise is good but blindly offering one benefit for the loss of another doesn’t solve anything, and giving a reward “in the hopes” that performance will follow will likely backfire.
  • Avoid getting angry or frustrated.
    Defensiveness will serve to validate and/or encourage the employee’s frustration and distrust regarding fairness in the workplace.
  • Try to avoid rhetoric or persuasion and instead, communicate the truthful “why.”
    There may be 100 great reasons why a benefit is being offered or why a benefit has gone away!  However, trying to persuade agreement from the parties affected is a waste of time. Instead, simply tell the truth as to why the decision was made, and refocus the parties back on their work.
  • Be consistent and (dare I say) fair.
    Logic, objectivity and reliability will nurture understanding in the workplace; understanding leads to acceptance of your decisions.

In summary, know this: in an atmosphere of entitlement, rewards and gifts are not tied to effort and thus, employees feel powerless to effect change and to grow. 

Therefore, if you must give something to your employees, give them a workplace where they can receive rewards the old fashioned way – by earning them.


About the Author

Heather Kinzie, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, GPHR, serves as the Chief Operating Officer for The Strive Group. With more than 20 years of organizational and workforce performance experience, Kinzie offers consulting, coaching, content development and ltraining to clients. She oversees a team of experts who utilize a broad, systematic approach to problem solving and consultation. Recognizing the critical importance of leadership, communication and effective collaboration among teams, Kinzie is committed to helping clients improve communication, engagement and organizational performance.

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